The plant is a member of the buttercup family. It grows about 2 feet (60 cm) tall, with wispy, greyish-green leaves. It blossoms with white flowers about 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide.
The flowers produce a seed capsule with 5 sections to it. When the capsule is dried, it splits open to scatter the seeds.
The seeds are small, 1/16 to 1/8 inches (1 1/2 – 3 mm) long. They are black outside, white and oily inside. They look a bit like onion seeds or poppy seeds.
They don’t have much smell, but the taste is slightly bitter, and slightly peppery, though not anywhere near as sharp or strong as black pepper.
You use the seeds whole or ground. When ground, they have a slight smell like oregano.
They are usually toasted first to release flavour.
Nigella is used in Indian and Middle Easter cooking.
It is one of the spices used in making the Bengali spice mixture called “panch phoran.”
In Indian cooking, it is sprinkled over naan dough before cooking, used in pilau dishes and in some curries and dals.
Nigella is not used in the south of India.
Sesame seeds (for texture) with a bit of oregano (for flavour.)
Store in sealed jar or container in dark place for up to a year.
Nigella is native to Western Asia.
Its usage started off in the Middle East, and made it down into Northern India through Iran.
Nigella is sometimes called Black Cumin in English, but that is actually another spice, even though one of the names in Indian (“kala zeera”) means “black cumin.”
It is sometimes also called “Black Caraway” in English and other European languages, though it has no relation to caraway.
Any names given to it referring to “onion seed” are referring to it in appearance only; it’s not related to onion. Plus, onion seeds actually have no taste.
Nigella comes from the Latin word, “niger”, meaning “black.”